14 Showstopping Facts About Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli performs on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992.
Liza Minnelli performs on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992.
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

When a young Liza Minnelli performed with her mother, Judy Garland, at the London Palladium in 1964, it was immediately clear that the musical theater industry had another explosive star on its hands. Before long, she was winning Tony Awards, topping music charts, and working with some of Hollywood’s greatest talents—including Bob Fosse, who helped launch Minnelli's career into super-stardom with his film adaptation of Cabaret in 1972. Read more about the legendary triple threat below.

1. Liza Minnelli was named after a song by George and Ira Gerswhin.

On March 12, 1946, Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli welcomed their first and only child together, Liza May Minnelli. They named her after “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away),” a song that George and Ira Gershwin created with Gus Kahn for the 1929 Ziegfeld production, Show Girl. Garland dedicated a radio performance of the song to an 8-month-old Minnelli as a lullaby, and later covered it on The Judy Garland Show. It was also briefly played during the overture for their mother-daughter performance at the London Palladium in November 1964.

2. Liza Minnelli made her screen debut at 3 years old.

Though Minnelli had already been on screen before she was born (Garland was pregnant with her while filming 1946’s Till the Clouds Roll By), she made her official film debut at age 3, playing the daughter of Garland’s character, Veronica, in 1949’s In the Good Old Summertime.

3. Liza Minnelli is the only child of two Academy Award winners to ever win an Oscar herself.

Liza Minnelli with her parents, Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland, in Hollywood in the late 1940s.KM Archive/Getty Images

Minnelli had inherited her mother’s dynamite singing chops and an unparalleled flair for theatrics, and she had nabbed a Best Actress Tony for starring in 1965’s Flora and the Red Menace by the time she was 19 years old. Eight years later, she took home a Best Actress Oscar for 1972’s Cabaret, making her the first and only winner whose parents have also both won Oscars. Her mother had been given the now-defunct Academy Juvenile Award in 1939 for her performances in The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms, and her father had won Best Director for 1958’s Gigi.

4. Liza Minnelli is an EGOT—sort of.

After Minnelli and director/choreographer Bob Fosse finished filming Cabaret, they immediately teamed up again for a made-for-television concert film called Liza With a Z, which won both of them an Emmy for Outstanding Single Program (Fosse also took home the awards for choreography and direction) in 1973. Fosse died one Grammy short of joining the EGOT club, but Minnelli kind of became a member in 1990 when the Recording Academy honored her with a Grammy Legend Award. Since it’s a non-competitive award, however, some people don’t count it.

5. Liza Minnelli auditioned for the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway and didn’t get it.

When Minnelli lost out on the stage role of Sally Bowles to British triple threat Jill Haworth, she wasn’t upset. “I knew I’d get the movie for some reason,” she told HuffPost. “I remember saying to myself, ‘That’s all right, I’ll do the film.'” With Minnelli’s choppy dark hair, spidery lashes, and pronounced American accent, she created a version of the histrionic cabaret star that was distinctly set apart from Haworth’s.

6. Liza Minnelli’s godmother is Kay Thompson, author of the Eloise series.

Before penning the perennially popular Eloise series of children’s books, Kay Thompson was, ironically, a tremendously successful cabaret performer. She was also a vocal coach to Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, a show-stealing actor alongside Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in 1957’s Funny Face, and godmother to the daughter of her close friend, Judy Garland. Minnelli paid tribute to the woman she called her “sophisticated fairy godmother” by recreating parts of Thompson’s legendary nightclub act in her 2008 Broadway concert Liza’s at the Palace.

7. Liza Minnelli voiced Dorothy in the animated sequel to The Wizard of Oz.

Minnelli continued her mother’s legacy by giving voice to Dorothy in Journey Back to Oz, in which Dorothy and Toto must save Oz from a new evil witch, Mombi, played by Ethel Merman. Most of the cast—including a then-15-year-old Minnelli—had recorded their lines in 1962, but issues with an inexperienced animation company halted production, and the film wasn’t released until 1974. By then, of course, Minnelli was already a seasoned superstar.

8. Liza Minnelli was married to Jack Haley, Jr., whose father played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.

Liza Minnelli with then-husband Jack Haley, Jr. in 1975.Maureen Donaldson/Liaison

The year 1974 turned out to be an Oz-some one for Minnelli. In addition to her Dorothy debut, she also married producer Jack Haley, Jr., whose father starred as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. In 1977, Minnelli briefly appeared on screen with her father-in-law in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, in which Haley introduces Minnelli’s character at an awards ceremony. It was Haley’s last film role; he passed away in 1979, the same year that Minnelli and Haley, Jr. divorced.

9. Liza Minnelli successfully avoided singing “Over the Rainbow” for most of her career.

Though Minnelli didn’t exactly stay off the Yellow Brick Road, she did steer clear of a certain seminal song of her mother’s: “Over the Rainbow.” “It’s been sung,” she told the Miami Herald. “I don’t like when anybody sings it.” She has, however, indulged our nostalgic tendencies at least twice, performing the song on The Hedda Hopper Show at age 13 in 1960, and again for the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration television special in 2001.

10. Liza Minnelli’s recording of “New York, New York,” used to be played at Yankee Stadium after every loss.

Frank Sinatra’s characteristically crooning rendition of “New York, New York” might be the most famous version of the song these days, but Minnelli’s actually came first. John Kander and Fred Ebb created the song for her character to sing in 1977’s New York, New York. Yankee Stadium adopted both versions in 1980, blasting Sinatra’s tune after wins and Minnelli’s version after losses. The tradition continued for more than two decades, until a miffed Minnelli gave management an ultimatum in 2001: Play her number after a win, or don’t play it at all. They took the second option, and now Sinatra’s voice booms through the stadium after every game.

11. Liza Minnelli sang on My Chemical Romance’s 2006 album The Black Parade.

You can hear Minnelli’s recognizable warble toward the end of “Mama,” a Goth circus anthem on My Chemical Romance’s 2006 album The Black Parade. It was lead singer Gerard Way’s idea to feature her on the track. “I love Liza Minnelli,” Way told The New York Times. “Black Parade was very theatrical, and we had this song 'Mama,' and I said, 'You know, it would be really great in this one part to get Liza.'” The producer asked her, she agreed, and soon Way was meeting her through the mixing board—the band was recording in Los Angeles, while Minnelli sang her piece from New York. In a later interview with PennLive, Minnelli called the experience “wonderful” and said Way was “as smart as a whip.”

12. Doctors said Liza Minnelli would never walk or talk again after contracting viral encephalitis.

Minnelli celebrates her return to performing in 2002.Scott Gries/Getty Images

When Minnelli was hospitalized for severe brain inflammation in 2000, she was told she’d never walk or talk—let alone grace a stage—again. Undeterred, she immediately began practicing the alphabet, and rehearsed herself back to health with a steady schedule of singing and dancing. By 2002, the 56-year-old living legend was off to Europe to tour a new show, aptly named Liza’s Back!

13. Liza Minnelli used to babysit Ron Howard, who later cast her in Arrested Development.

Liza Minnelli as "Lucille Two" opposite Jason Bateman's Michael Bluth in season 4 of Arrested Development.Netflix

Decades after Minnelli babysat Ron Howard, he phoned her to ask if she’d be willing to guest star in a wacky little sitcom he produced. The show, of course, was Arrested Development. And the role was even wackier: Lucille Austero (more commonly known as “Lucille Two”), the vertigo-plagued nemesis of Lucille Bluth. Minnelli accepted the role and played it to perfection intermittently throughout several seasons, to great acclaim. “I just love doing it,” she told Today.

14. Eight different actors have impersonated Liza Minnelli on Saturday Night Live.

Much to the disappointment of the musical theater/sketch comedy crossover contingent of fans, Minnelli has never once hosted Saturday Night Live (though she did make a memorable cameo as the best friend of Kristen Wiig’s character Penelope in 2009). Between 1987 and 2017, a total of eight women debuted their best Liza Minnelli impressions on the 30 Rock stage, including Nora Dunn, Rosie O’Donnell, Molly Shannon, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham, Cecily Strong, and, of course, Kristen Wiig. As Wiig demonstrates in 2012’s “Liza Minnelli Tries to Turn Off a Lamp,” it only takes one Liza Minnelli to turn off a lamp ... but it takes a while.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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Instant Pot/Amazon

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10 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Professional Songwriters

A songwriter in her natural habitat.
A songwriter in her natural habitat.
Soundtrap, Unsplash

Behind every club banger and power ballad is an eclectic team of individuals, each with their own role in its creation and promotion. Needless to say, it couldn’t happen without the songwriters. These gifted musicians don’t just pen the lyrics that fuel all your car concerts and karaoke nights—they also manage egos, help artists articulate their innermost feelings, and juggle their own side gigs. So what does a songwriting career actually look like? Mental Floss chatted with three experienced songwriters about everything from how they make money to how they make hits.

1. It’s common for songwriters to have their own music careers.

From Carole King to Pharrell Williams, the music industry has long teemed with talented artists who’ve written songs for other acts—so it’s not exactly surprising that so many songwriters are nurturing what they call their own “artist projects.” In fact, all three songwriters interviewed for this article have released new music in the last few months. Daniel Capellaro released the EP Nightside [A] in November under the moniker “Dvniel”; Skyler Stonestreet’s first single as “The Sunshine State” dropped in late October; and Trent Park has been unveiling a steady stream of singles and corresponding music videos since June.

Though it seems like it could be difficult to constantly fork over songs that they might want to release themselves, the collaborative nature of the business prevents this from being a major issue. Often, the songwriter is working off ideas and emotions specific to the artist they’re writing for, so the song truly feels like it belongs to that artist. Other times, the song gets tweaked by so many writers and producers that it’s no longer the original songwriter’s personal opus. “When a song comes out, sometimes I’m like, ‘Ah that was good, but I would’ve done it a totally different way,” Park says. “But that means it wouldn’t be the song that it is.”

2. Songwriters sometimes have to fake it ’til they make it.

In a business built on relationships, it’s pivotal for up-and-coming songwriters to always be on the lookout for new connections. Sometimes, this means acting first and thinking later. During Capellaro’s early days in Los Angeles, his demo CD was his de facto business card. About a month after giving one to an executive from Universal Music Group, he got a call from the company asking when he was playing next. Having no dates lined up, he picked one at random: March 16. “So I hang up and I'm like, ‘OK, I’ve just committed to playing a show. I've got no venue. I've got no band. I have to get all this put together in the next 30 days,” Capellaro remembers.

He found a former bass player from the band Lifehouse on Craigslist, and the two set about securing the rest of the band. For the venue, Capellaro chose a well-known rehearsal space called SIR (Studio Instrument Rentals), only to find out that the Universal exec slated to see the show “[had] never signed a single act at SIR—she hates that place.” It was too late to switch venues, so Capellaro reassured his Universal contact over the phone that “she won’t recognize it” and immediately transported everything in his recently furnished living room to the stage to give it a whole new look. “I had a couch, a rug, tea candles,” he says. “I wanted it to feel like MTV Unplugged.” The hard-to-please executive was duly impressed. “She’s like ‘You sound great. How long have you guys been playing together?’ and I’m like, ‘Ah, you know, for a while.’ I didn’t want to tell her ‘Four days.’”

When asked what surprised him most about the industry, Park answered without hesitation: “That nobody knows what they’re doing.” He, too, confessed to occasional fibbery. “There are some times when I reach out to an artist and I say, ‘I love your stuff. I have a song for you,'” he says. “I’m completely lying. I just want to work with that person, and once they reach out I end up formulating songs in the vein of their stuff.”

3. Songwriters don’t just write for career music artists.

Songwriters like Capellaro and Stonestreet, who are signed to music publishing companies, mainly do work on songs for fellow artists. Park, on the other hand, is an independent songwriter—so his clients sometimes come from other industries altogether. “Right now I'm writing for a couple lawyers that are just doing it as a passion, but they pay me really well,” he says. “I’m there for everyone. Honestly, it’s way better money.” Park also spent a few weeks writing songs for the wife of a billionaire app developer. Not only did she pay him triple his per-song rate and triple his per-diem rate, she also insisted on posting him up in a luxury hotel and giving him an additional $500 each day for food and other expenses. “That was a really cool [scenario],” Park says, “I’m hoping for more of those.”

4. There are countless ways to create a song—and countless people involved.

Songwriting isn’t exactly a linear process. “You can start from any place,” Capellaro says. “You can start with someone toe-tapping, or have a piano pulled up and just start playing a C chord over and over again.” Often, the record label has already started for you—they’ll send an instrumental track to multiple songwriters, who each adds their own lyrics and melody. Then, the label simply chooses their favorite.

Other songs originate in songwriting camps. Basically, a record label will gather various songwriters in a house, split them into small groups, and “see if magic happens,” Stonestreet says. During a camp meant to generate hits for Dua Lipa a few years ago, it did: Stonestreet and several other writers penned her 2018 single “IDGAF.”

But even after a track has lyrics and a melody, there’s always a chance it’ll undergo another round of edits. Maybe a label liked a certain producer’s work on another song, so they ask them to tweak this one; or they bring in a new writer to fine-tune a few words or add a post-chorus. Big artists also sometimes have personal collaborators that they want credited on the song, whether or not they actually helped create it. “That’s why when you look at a Katy Perry song, you’re like ‘How did 14 people write this one song that has the most juvenile lyrics I’ve ever heard in my life?’ They didn’t—it’s all politics,” Capellaro says.

5. Songwriters don’t make much from music streaming services like Spotify.

Music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music are notorious for pocketing most of the earnings from artists’ work. Spotify, for example, pays the rights holder as little as $0.006 for each stream—and that paltry sum must then be split among all the people involved in making the song. Songwriters, producers, musicians, managers, label executives, and any number of other people could each be entitled to a certain percentage of the profits. “I have over a million streams on one catalog, and that translated to $785,” Capellaro says. “If I sold a million copies, I would’ve had a house up in [Beverly Hills].” Not only are the rates low, but artists also have to somehow make their songs stand out from the tens of thousands of other new songs released each week, which Capellaro admits is “virtually impossible.”

6. Songwriters often juggle other jobs.

Since songwriters can’t rely on streaming dividends for income—and salaried music publishing positions don’t always come easy—they often make ends meet with a variety of side gigs. Park realized early in his career that while songwriters were mainly earning money from royalties, producers were often paid an hourly rate or up-front lump sum. “So I learned how to produce,” he says. Then, he purchased a mic and other equipment so he could record vocals at home—like hooks for people’s rap or EDM songs. “Basically, I’m an a la carte thing,” he explained. Park eventually branched out into music video production, and he’s now directed videos for chart-topping artists like G-Eazy and Ty Dolla $ign. He also served as a music technical consultant for 2020’s The High Note, starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson; in that position, he made sure the dialogue, instruments, and other music-related details matched real life.

Even when a songwriter appears to be working a job entirely unrelated to the music industry, there could be a shrewd reason for doing so. Capellaro spent more than a decade running a restaurant called Amici in Brentwood, California. “I knew I wanted to be there because that’s where the celebrities live,” he explains. Sure enough, he connected with people like J.J. Abrams, Laura Dern, and Bonnie Hunt, who was hosting her NBC talk show at the time. One evening while refilling Hunt’s water glass, Capellaro posed a question: “Hey Bonnie, what would it take to be on your show?” She asked if he had a CD on hand, which he did, and booked him as a musical guest within weeks. The day after the taping, Hunt dined at Amici again and lauded Capellaro for his performance. “I’m like, ‘This is so surreal. I was just on your show yesterday, and now I’m bringing you sea bass.” A producer who caught the performance later reached out to Capellaro and ended up inviting him to his studio for songwriting sessions—which yielded hits for Chris Brown and Boyz II Men.

It was also at Amici that Capellaro developed a friendship with Marc Caruso, a music engineer who happened to be the founder of a music publishing company called Angry Mob Music Group. About five years ago, Caruso, knowing Capellaro was itching to give up his restaurant job and focus on music full-time, offered him a music publishing deal; Capellaro’s been there ever since.

7. Songwriters have to form close bonds with artists in a few hours or less.

Because the goal is to create a song that feels personal to the artist, songwriters usually prefer to work directly with them whenever possible. And getting the artist to give them some seed of inspiration means forging a deep friendship with them within minutes of entering the studio.

“There’s so much trust that needs to happen in the room. You’re telling potentially intimate details about yourself that would be uncomfortable sharing [with a stranger]. So much of it is trying to create a safe place for the artist and a safe place for the writers, all the while dealing with egos the size of tall buildings,” Capellaro says. “It’s almost like a therapy session: What’s your mood today? What happened over the weekend? What’re you pissed off about? What’re you inspired by at this very moment? Because it can change at 5 p.m. today, and maybe that inspires the song.”

Stonestreet expressed a similar sentiment. “I honestly love when the artist is involved. You won’t know anything specific unless you’re sitting there having a conversation—it can be emotional. You form a relationship, and you trust each other to handle the information.”

8. Songwriters have to say “no” without actually saying “no.”

Songwriters have to find creative ways of steering a song in the right direction without flatly rejecting an artist’s not-so-great suggestion. Stonestreet might toss out a compliment and lean on the lackluster reaction of the room as evidence that they haven’t yet struck gold. Something to the effect of: “‘That’s cool, and I like it, but maybe it’s not jumping out, and it’s not making everyone jump around the room and [giving everyone] that feeling of ‘This is so exciting.’”

“I always say, ‘Let’s try it,’” Park says. “‘I don’t necessarily hear what you’re talking about, but let’s try it.’” Sometimes, hearing their idea come to life is enough to make the artist realize it isn’t a great fit. Park also occasionally asks the artist’s manager, significant other, or another trusted party to weigh in, hoping they’ll side with him. “But I am always honest. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think the idea works. If you like it, 100-percent do it. It’s not my vibe, but it’s your song.'”

And since the artist does have final say, the writers also need to know when to cut their losses. If the artist is hell-bent on certain subpar lyrics? “You’re going to go with whatever they’re going to like,” Capellaro says.

9. Songs sometimes get lost in the abyss.

Earlier this year, Stonestreet wrote Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber’s duet “Stuck with U,” which got released mere weeks later. “I just heard the demo of it last week, and it’s coming out Friday. I don’t understand what’s going on,” she thought at the time. “That was a freak thing. Usually you do have to wait a minute.” A minute could be a year—or never. “So many people have to say yes to the song for it to come out … All the label’s people, the artist’s team, your team.” Even after getting all those green lights, a single could still test poorly among advance radio reviewers and end up stalling indefinitely.

Sometimes, a record label neglects to send the finished product back to the songwriter. “I think some songs can go into a complete abyss where they just sit on a hard drive for years and years,” Stonestreet says.

10. Songwriters have mixed feelings about making music via Zoom.

Since songwriting often involves multiple people spending long hours in a small studio, the coronavirus pandemic threatened to upend the whole system. So songwriters went virtual. Some, like Park and Stonestreet, already had recording equipment at home; Capellaro, meanwhile, quickly invested in a mic, a monitor, cables, and all the other requisite gadgets. To shift the workflow online, they’ve had to more clearly define each person’s task for each song.

“I’m a vocalist, so I’m going to record vocals in my house, and I will send the stems to producer X, Y, or Z, have them tune them for me [and] put them into the rest of the track," Capellaro says. “I can have another guy master it, [and] we can always hop on a FaceTime or Zoom call to get it written and recorded.” This streamlined process has actually helped with productivity. “I have been writing more music since March than I was previously,” Capellaro says.

Making music via video chat tends to work better with fewer people, so Stonestreet has enjoyed the opportunity for more one-on-one sessions. When there are several people on the call, they cut down on confusion over who’s speaking (and singing) by thoroughly explaining each suggestion. “You really talk things through, which has been really nice,” she says. That said, the camaraderie born in the studio is hard to recreate on a computer screen, and songwriters are eager to experience that again. “I love Zoom, but I also really miss people in the room with me,” Stonestreet says.